Maintaining Motivation: The Challenges of the #Resistance Beyond the 2018 Midterms

Maintaining Motivation: The Challenges of the #Resistance Beyond the 2018 Midterms

What does the future hold?  

It's a question that drives every single human being in our daily lives. Decisions and actions done today are always done with the future in mind. We eat to provide enough nourishment until the next meal. We sleep to provide enough rest until the next day. We work to provide a financial means to support ourselves and our loved ones to pay future bills. We exercise to improve our physique, endurance, or mental state for a future time. We read, write, play instruments, and do art to explore our creativity and to clear our minds for the hours and days to come. And we communicate with others, whether it be friends, family, or our own children in a way that builds relationships and sets the stage for future interactions.   

As a community organizer, asking what the future holds causes me much consternation.  

Over the past eight months, I have been doing my small part for the resistance. As someone who is unmarried and unattached, I have no excuse for not giving my all to this cause. I have tried to find a way to use my straight, white male privilege in a way to be an ally for those who have been targeted by this hateful administration despite the fact that my privilege has given me a security blanket that many vulnerable populations do not have. Even with my being dealt a good hand by life, I have gotten a small glimpse into the kind of trepidation that this administration has caused as Republicans have attempted to take away my private health insurance, purchased on the marketplace, three separate times and counting. That combined with the death threats I received in 2016 from Project Veritas has made me a staunch Democrat for life and someone who sees Republicans as a threat to both myself and to my country.

The work has not been easy. Even living in a solidly blue state with an entire Democratic congressional delegation, there still has been plenty of work to do. The majority of work has centered on the immigration issue as Herr Trump has chosen to target our city for potential retribution for being designated a sanctuary city. This combined with a sporadic ICE presence has left the region's immigrant communities in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Even those who are going through the proper channels to become citizens are now scared that they may very well be swept up at their next immigration check-in. Despite the state being solidly blue, there remain several local Trump Republicans who have been elected to local offices. Their presence and their vocal denigration of local immigrant communities has emboldened their followers to proudly put their TRUMP stickers on the back of their pickup trucks as they head into town. 

Fortunately, there are more of us than there are of them. And over the last eight months, I have met a number of local community leaders who have risen to the forefront of our local resistance. They represent multiple religious denominations, progressive groups, and communities. Some have been here for generations, others have been here for just a few weeks. Some oppose everything Trump is doing, others focus on a single core issue. Some have had undocumented family members, know someone who is undocumented, or are undocumented themselves. Some are bilingual while others speak only their native language. Some are retired while others are working multiple jobs and weekends to provide for their families. The majority are women, who are overwhelmingly leading the resistance. Overall, it is an eclectic coalition from both the suburbs and inner city that has come together to oppose the rising tide of American fascism.

And it is a coalition that needs to be maintained at all costs.   

Since the early days of Saul Alinsky, the challenge of community organizing has been how to maintain motivation over an extended period of time. Alinsky believed that he could swoop in and out of a given community within three years and establish a diverse coalition that would endure and thrive without his leadership. Unfortunately for Alinksky, this model of organizing was not sustainable. Despite having good leaders on the ground, these coalitions eventually disbanded either after achieving a single victory or after having experienced a string of stinging defeats. It was not until Alinksy's passing in 1972 that prominent community organizers like Ed Chambers and later Ernie Cortez finally realized that more than three years was needed to build and maintain momentum for communities that had the greatest need. Unlike Alinsky, Chambers and Cortez would focus on religious-based community organizing, knowing that these religious institutions would continue to be an important and, more than likely, permanent part of their communities in which they served. 

Over the past year, a number of progressive religious congregations have joined the resistance, providing a solid foundation in these communities. Yet the exciting part has been the sudden emergence of community groups that have popped up to combat Donald Trump, chiefly among them the group known as Indivisible. Based on the leadership of former key Obama officials, Indivisible established a nationwide network of progressive groups throughout the country who are tapped into both local and national issues. Indivisible has been at the forefront of nationwide marches, petition drives, and contacting of elected officials. They have been both the boots on the ground and the voices through the phone in Virginia and Alabama. They are the ones who are driving hundreds of miles to question their Republican senators at small town halls in deep red areas. They are the ones calling Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain and asking them to vote against skinny repeal. And they are the ones who are looking at congressional races in 2018 to figure out which local district they want to target as part of the blue wave.  

What Indivisible has captured has been a renewed sense of political activism. Many of its members were active during the anti-war protests of the early 1970s. Again, many of its members are women, seemingly in disbelief that they still have to fight for basic rights and protections. There are also a handful of millennials, concerned about what might happen to their immigrant, Muslim, or LGBTQ neighbors. Indivisible chapters are primarily formed by community leaders wanting to weaponize the anger and angst that many people have felt in the age of Trump. By creating a community of like-minded individuals, there is the sense that people are not alone in this struggle. Phone banking is often done is someone's home, with wine and cheese helping to create an idyllic backdrop for what can potentially be a stressful two hours. There is carpooling to local town halls and political events. And there are holiday parties where politics temporarily take a backseat to a renewed sense of community and friendship.  

Despite all these positives that groups like Indivisible have provided, the larger concern remains how to maintain this energy beyond not only the 2018 midterm elections but beyond Donald Trump as well. All our nation's ills will not be solved simply by having a Democratic president even with control of both the House and the Senate. There still will be 11 million undocumented immigrants. There still will be a broken criminal justice system that overtly discriminates against people of color. There still will be 23 million Americans without health insurance. There still will be women without access to basic health services. There still will be a system that does not provide equal pay for equal work. There still will be a segregated education system that does not provide students of color with equal access to resources. As Barack Obama saw during a brief six-month window, even with control of the House and Senate, there still will be structural inequalities that will simply be too complicated or too controversial to address. 

Politics is a marathon. It is stressful. It can burn you out. It is why many of us need to simply unplug from the news for a few days here and there to recharge. This past year has seemed like an endless nightmare in many regards. Our country (read: 1/4 of us) handed the keys of our great American car to a dilapidated manchild incapable of basic governance and decorum. It would have been easy to give in to a defeatist attitude. I myself briefly debated leaving the country to get away from it all. But I was drawn back in because of the people I met on the campaign trail. I couldn't abandon them now that they needed me more than ever. My decision to remain has been rewarded by my work over the last eight months with our community leaders. There is an army of good out there even if it doesn't currently reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  

This November's election may very well be the most important midterm election in our nation's history. The resistance's energy is there and rightfully so. But how the movement stays engaged and involved is equally, if not more, important. Americans got complacent during Barack Obama's presidency and by not realizing Barack Obama's America was on the ballot of 2016, we ended up with the most inept president in our country's history. America is still a work in progress. We get things right, eventually. But to get things right we need an engaged citizenry. We need concerned citizens not just in times of crisis but in times of prosperity as well. We need people attending local city council meetings. We need people registered to vote and actively voting in every single local election. We need people getting over the unnecessary taboo and actually talking about politics over the kitchen table. And we need our children, who will inherit this place when we're long gone, to understand what it means to partake in one's civic duties and to find ways to better their communities.  

Doing all this is not easy. But it is necessary. The United States is at a historical crossroads where one political party has flown off the deep end and has become a cult, intent on protecting its white supremacist past. The Republican Party won't go quietly into the night, even if they suffer a blue tsunami in November. They didn't simply become the Party of Trump, they've been that way for a generation or more. Should they be temporarily out of power, that doesn't mean they won't continue to undermine American democracy in subtle, deceptive ways. They'll continue to promote ALEC's mission to take over local and state governments. They'll continue to disenfranchise people of color. They'll continue to appoint conservative judges to the courts. They'll continue to do the bidding of the NRA. They'll continue to wage war on low-income health care providers. And they'll do all this because they believe that nobody will notice.  

It is up to the resitance in 2019 and beyond to prove them wrong. 

Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.

James Burke on the end of scarcity

James Burke on the end of scarcity

On access journalism and its discontents

On access journalism and its discontents